For the first time since 1967, the Canal Winchester High School football team will open its season with someone other than Bexley.

For the first time since 1967, the Canal Winchester High School football team will open its season with someone other than Bexley.

Instead, the Indians will head west a couple miles on Friday to play at St. Charles.

Canal Winchester finished 8-3 overall last season after losing to Logan 30-7 in the opening round of the Division II playoffs. The Cardinals finished 5-5 overall, losing three of their final four games in part because of injuries.

"I like the idea of opening at home and Canal Winchester will be a tough opponent, but its nice to be playing them at home," St. Charles coach Jeff Pharion said. "They have a great coach in Phil Mauro. He came there four years ago and brought them back to prominence."

Canal Winchester averaged 28.5 points per game last year and returns several players on offense, including senior Ben O'Bryant, senior Ryan Toledo and senior Mitchell Spurlock on the line.

The Indians also return their leading receivers are senior Cody Ferguson and senior Courtland Williams. As usual, they will use a rotation at running back with senior Sam Jones, junior Alex Pickens and junior Antonio Whitfield. The quarterback will be either senior Drew Black or junior Alex Fox.

"They run the shotgun with a pistol back and are best when they balance the run and the pass," said Pharion, who begins his second season leading the Cardinals. "They are filled with good athletes so that makes them a tough opponent."

Mauro also was impressed with his scouting of St. Charles and raved about the Cardinals athleticism.

Senior Joe Spahr will be behind center for St. Charles in its spread offense. He took over in the sixth week last year when graduate Shane Bauman was injured in a 15-7 loss to Zanesville. He rushed for more than 300 yards in the final three games with a pair of 100-yard performances.

His top receivers are both senior Division I prospects in Jourdan Wickliffe and J. Schroeder. Wickliffe has game-changing speed, but was injured much of last season. Schroeder is a capable receiver, but he is in demand for his skills in punting (37-yard average) and place-kicking (22 of 25 extra points and 6-for-14 on field-goal attempts).

"I think offensively they have some explosive players," Mauro said. "(Spahr) is an awfully good player who throws and runs well and (Wickliffe) is a (Division I) player without a doubt. He has a nice frame."

The stable of running backs for St. Charles will be seniors Joe Hartge, Miguel Johnson and Connor Hoge along with sophomore Gunner Francis. Opening the holes will be a line led by two-way starters Alex Manos and Joe OBrien.

"On the defensive side of the ball, were really young," Mauro said. "You can coach everything but game experience. We have to grow up in hurry on defensive side of ball."

Jones, a safety, is the only returning starter for the Indians. Senior Eric Banks and junior Brennen Moore are the top defensive linemen as the face of the defense changes to a four-man front after having either three or five there in previous seasons.

"It will be a challenge without a doubt," Mauro said. "Well get an idea early of how were doing. We just have to prep well and put the guys in the best possible position that we can put them in."

St. Charles plays both 4-4 and 4-3 defensive alignments. Senior Colin Merrill led the team with three interceptions as a cornerback and Hoge had 61 tackles at linebacker. Defensive end Andrew Wodarcyk is also a returning starter along with Johnson at linebacker.

"Its our first game and youre always excited to see how your kids will perform," Pharion said. "That first game can set the attitude of for the season and you want them to go out and play four good quarters of football."